Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Salon: Hi My Name is Sandy

 Yes, please allow me to introduce myself.  I am your long-lost blogger friend Sandy.  If I follow your blog (in theory) you may be wondering if I died or fell into a well or something.  No, I am alive, I've just been off the grid.  The main reason is because my kids did not have school on Thursday or Friday.  We rarely have even a half day of "free" time so I like to make hay while the sun shines.  And make hay we did.

But before Thursday, I was busy doing things to clear my schedule.  Lots of running around and scrubbing and parent meetings and stuff.  And hey, I tried Pilates for the first time and loved it!  Just keeping things interesting and different.  I have a friend that goes to a class every Tuesday, and I'm going to try to incorporate it when I can.

So because of the wacky-ness that normally ensues on the weekend, my running partner and I went out for an early 8 miles on Thursday.  (Just as an aside, every single time I get ready to do a long run, I'm almost frozen with terror...fear of pain, failure, injury.  I'm not sure if this will ever go away.)  I then took the kids to Target, primarily to get "stuff" for my daughter's Homecoming Week next week.  Then at 2:00pm, my daughter and I went to Universal and rode the rides for a few hours, then went to Halloween Horror Nights.  You all know how much she and I love our horror, and it is a SERIOUS amount of fun.  I was just totally exhausted by the time we left, which was about 11:30pm.  I would have allowed one of the roaming demons to carry me out to the car, willingly.  

On Friday, I took the kids to Sea World.  They have passes, and they had been dying to go.  Normally, I am racing with them to the front row of each ride, but this time I packed Jo Nesbo and read while they cavorted around.  It needed to happen, I needed some rest.  

Yesterday was sports day.  My daughter had to meet the bus at her school at 5:15am, and the meet was over on the coast in Titusville (an hour drive).  Despite all the theme park action on Thursday and Friday, she beat her PR by over a minute, which is incredible.  The boy played football later in the afternoon against the one team we thought might give us some competition, but we shut them out 22-0.  What an awesome day.  (Random thought yesterday...if my son plays High School football, we will have watched 11 years of the game from his sidelines.  Holy crap.)

So my reading = dismal.  I'm still reading Jo Nesbo's "Phantom" which is amazing.  Just no sitting time and when I do, I fall asleep.  I intended to post that review on Tuesday, but that ain't happening, so I will have to shuffle things around.  On audio, I finished "The Invisible Ones" by Stef Penney, and narrated by the flipping amazing Dan Stevens.  Audio lovers?  Listen to this one.  The story is great but the narration is UNBELIEVABLE.  I'm now pretty close to wrapping up Anna Quindlen's memoirish musings in "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake" and I wish I knew her IRL.  She has her ducks in a row, this one.  Plus she is also kind of an amazing writer too.  Look for her to be on my list of top reads for 2012 for "Every Last One".

Let's hope for a more productive blogging week next week.  Hopefully I'll see you around, I'll get some books read and some reviews written.  There's always  room to aspire for improvement.

Friday, September 28, 2012

SIBA Recap: Books I'm Excited About Part 2

Last Friday I shared a long list of books that I discovered at SIBA and that I am terribly excited about reading.  Well, there is more.  Check it out.

Comeback Love - Peter Golden:  This is one of those books that I might never have considered.  But Sarah Pekkanen blurbed it (love her) and I had dinner with Mr. Golden and he spend considerable time talking me down off my ledge about raising sons.  Plus look at that cover.  The story is about two lovers who came of age in the 1960's, and were separated by circumstance.  Decades later, they find each other again.  

The Blessed - Tonya Hurley:  Again, not sure I would have considered this one, but I heard Ms. Hurley speak on a panel.  And I got a good look at the cover, which took my breath away.  It is a YA novel, first of a trilogy, about three girls, down on their luck, who arrive at a hospital to find that they might be the modern version of martyred saints.

Astray - Emma Donahue (October 2012):  I think if you have read "Room", you probably would not hesitate to read this, no matter what the topic.  This book was a rep pick, and describes a journey from Puritan Massachusetts to revolutionary New Jersey, from antebellum Louisiana to a Toronto highway, lighting up four centuries of wanderings.

Cover of Snow - Jenny Milchman (January 2013):  Jenny was sitting at the same dinner table as Peter Golden, and completely charmed the bloggers with her sweet demeanor.  Plus she loves Tana French.  So.  when she told me it took her 11 years to write this literary mystery about a woman seeking answers to her husband's suicide. 

Blood Beneath My Feet:  The Journey of a Southern Death Investigator - Joseph Scott Morgan:  A memoir of a guy who has BEEN THERE.  And OMG there are pictures.  This is totally up my alley, I admit, but I won't be reading it anywhere near food.  This gentleman spoke on a panel, and said that someone declared this book a new genre.  I was pretty much sold that that point.

I'm curious if any of you have heard any of these?  The hardest part is going to be how to decide which to read first!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Wilderness of Error - Errol Morris

 True crime has always been "fun" reading for me.  It inspires me, it intrigues me, and usually propels me to dig deeper, to Google things, to obsess.  The ladies at TLC know this, and often approach me when books like this come on tour.

I'd never heard of this case, which originally occurred in 1970.  It is an investigation that has inspired books, a movie, and decades of bumbling trials that never really arrived at a satisfying answer.  Where on earth have I been?  I was dying for more info.

Synopsis:  In the middle of the night at Fort Bragg NC, in 1970, an esteemed doctor (Jeffrey MacDonald) called  the police.  He had been attacked, and his wife and two young daughters had been murdered.  The word "pig" had been written on the walls in blood, and MacDonald told a horrible tale of four drug-crazed hippies who had committed this crime.

Over a period of 9 years and numerous trials, a circuitous path is taken in the conviction of Jeffrey MacDonald for these murders.  The story he tells, which is supported by one guilt-ridden and drug-addicted woman who claims to have been at the home during the murders, is much different than the one told by the military and the prosecution.  

In the hands of Errol Morris (filmmaker and private detective), who not only pores over the original court documents, but interviews those involved long after the dust has settled, it becomes clear that a serious injustice has occurred.  Leads that were not pursued, a crime scene that was not preserved, lost evidence, errors in the transfer of notes, prejudiced judges...ultimately a team of lawyers that were so convinced of MacDonald's guilt, they turned their backs on facts that would have caused reasonable doubt in a court of law.  Morris has spent over 20 years researching a case that undoubtedly has imprisoned the wrong man.

My thoughts:  The premise of this work is beyond fascinating to me.  The idea that a murder investigation could go this wrong is terrifying, and brings back other stories with a similar result, like "An Innocent Man" by John Grisham or "The Monster of Florence".  Nearly everyone involved in this case (except the military and the prosecution of course) believes MacDonald is innocent!  But yet he still sits in prison to this day.  It is the kind of thing that blows one's mind.

Yet the material...the blood, sweat and tears of Morris that is the work of over two insanely dense.  The level of detail is something I really struggled with.  Diagrams, interviews, transcripts from the is all in there.  I was reading this book during a very busy time for me, and I could not get a solid purchase.  The reading requires concentration, and is not conducive to five or fifteen minute reading sessions.  This is a book that would be best digested in several long reading sessions instead.  But this is not the kind of time that I had.  So I labored, and it took me a solid three weeks to read.  It is a long book.

I was also disappointed there weren't more pictures.  True crime requires pictures, otherwise I have to do a lot of work on my own.  If these people exist, then I want to see what they look like.  

So while the idea of this book was mind-bending and thought-provoking, I got lost in the weeds.  I will most certainly keep the book for another read in a different year when I have the time to invest fully.

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Charleston #1

After a few days at Kiawah Island, we headed to Charleston.  It is impossible not to love Charleston.  It is the epitome of Southern Charm.  Gorgeous mansions, old money, palm trees, iron gates, flower gardens, and comfort food that could potentially make you gain 50 pounds in a week if you set your mind to it.

One thing that I always do when I'm in this town is walk the streets South of Broad, all the way down to The Battery.  Here are a few modest homes on The Battery.  You can stay at a few of these places overnight, or if you have $10 million or more lying around, you can buy one.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Stand: Hardcases, No Man's Land, The Night Has Come

If you've been hanging out here and putting up with me long enough, you know I am a huge fan of Stephen King.  We go way back.  Over the last couple of years, I've also become acquainted with the joys of the graphic novel.  Two years ago for my birthday, my good blogger friend Molly Bumble sent me the first volume (ultimately of a set of six) of The Stand in graphic form.  I would define this gift as #1, the perfect gift for me, and #2, the gift that keeps on giving.  I ran out and bought the next two volumes, and anxiously 
awaited the rest.  The reviews of these three graphic novels can be found here:

The Stand Volume 1:  Captain Trips

The Stand Volume 2:  American Nightmares

The Stand Volume 3:  Soul Survivors

The beauty of this vision of The Stand is that it has not been influenced by the made-for-TV-movie (thank God, in the case of Molly Ringwald), but is an interpretation by apostles of Uncle Stevie's Magnum Opus itself, with The Man on the periphery offering his input.  Apostles that can write and draw.  They bring it all to life in terrifying, visceral illustrations that express every emotion experienced by the survivors of the King Apocalypse.  FYI, these are not for children.  There is language, gore and sexuality in these pages, which is as it should be.  I'm going to briefly talk about the events in each volume, and there will be minor spoilers.  In a novel that contains over a thousand pages, however, where the biggest surprise and delight is King's storytelling, I don't think I'm ruining anything for you.

In the fourth volume, "Hardcases", we are introduced to Trashcan Man, who is headed towards the Dark Man in Las Vegas.  He is wounded and mentally unstable, and has pledged his life to the Walking Dude.  He joins his ilk in Vegas, who are forming an unholy community of the worst of humanity.  Yet they demand loyalty and do not tolerate alcohol or drug abuse.  Offenders are publicly crucified. 

While Mother Abigail waits for the gathering of her flock in Boulder, various rag-tag groups are headed in her direction.  Larry is traveling with Nadine, Joe the wild boy, and Lucy.  Frannie, Stu, Harold and Glen Bateman are ambling in that direction too, but things are strained because Harold perceives that Stu is moving in on his woman.  A community is established in Boulder, and a governing committee is formed.  Frannie and Stu start to suspect Harold is up to no good, and Mother Abigail disappears on a religious pilgrimage.

In "No Man's Land", Nadine and Harold join forces, and ultimately commit a final act of terrorism before heading West to Las Vegas.  The Free Zone of Boulder sends three spies to Vegas as well to determine what the Dark Man is up to, knowing that these three may be walking towards their demise.  Larry and Frannie discover Harold's diary, which is a shocking wake-up call to those who thought they knew him.  Mother Abigail returns from her pilgrimage, weak and sick, and tells the people of the Free Zone that God has spoken to her and asked that a group of four must travel, on foot, without provisions, to Las Vegas to face the Dark Man.

And that leaves us with the final installment, "The Night Has Come".  The final showdown between good and evil.  I won't say too much about what happens.  If you haven't read the graphic novels, or the book, it is better to discover it for yourself. It is exciting, and dark, and sad, and hopeful, and appropriate for an apocalyptic battle.

I had to chuckle that in the final scenes, the artists (with Uncle Stevie's permission) included Stevie's likeness in a cameo part, a character named Rich Bachman (King's pen name).  In the scene, Bachman, who was part of the Dark Man's inner circle, grows a conscience and speaks out, and is struck down.  King loves his cameos in his movies, and enjoys allowing his characters from various books to visit each other.  So I thought it was only appropriate that he got to make his own stand against evil.

It has been many years since I've read the novel "The Stand", so I'm not 100% sure if the details are consistent here.  I'm not sure that the books end the same.  Hey, I don't even remember what I had for breakfast!  I will admit that the gregariousness of King's storytelling is lost.  The dialogue is distilled down to exactly what is needed.  But the story is epic, and the illustrations and jarring.  If you are a fan of the novel, I would highly recommend you get your hands on the set and nestle down for a weekend of visual entertainment.    

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Matinee: The Expendables 2 (2012)

Now don't roll your eyes.  Yes I saw this movie, almost against my will.  On Labor Day weekend, we found ourselves with a little bit of extra time on our hands.  Not something that happens often.  And I thought that we should take advantage of this anomaly and go to the movies.

The only takers I could muster were my son and his friend Scootie.  Well, they didn't want to see anything romantic or scary, and nothing too rated R, so that limited the field.  To this ONE MOVIE.  They did not want me with them, but there was truly nothing else going on.  

I did not see the first Expendables movie, for probably the same reasons I shouldn't have seen this one.

But let me talk about the positive aspects of the film.  The cast is totally loaded.  Sylvester Stallone, Liam Hemsworth, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, plus a few more.  (Not that any of these fellows were challenging themselves on the acting front.)  There were a lot of six-packs and biceps.  It was only 1 hour and 43 minutes.  Those are the positives.    
 I'm not even going to talk about the plot.  Whatever it was, it was just an excuse for this mercenaries-for-hire to stab, shoot, blow things up, and destroy stereotypical bad guys from the Soviet Union.  

I couldn't decide if the movie was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen, or if the stupidity was intentional and I was to take it all in jest.  I DID laugh several times, because I just couldn't believe I had paid good money to see this stuff.  My son felt that they were making fun of themselves and the genre.  I certainly HOPE that is the case.  Let me give you a few examples of the cornball.

In one gun fight, Arnold and Bruce Willis and hiding behind a car, and taking turns unloading their ammo into evildoers.  Arnold says to Willis "I'll be back".  Willis says "No, you've been back enough.  I'll go."  And Arnold says "Yippee Ky Yay".  Uh huh.  Stuff like that.

One member of our Expendables team is dressed like a priest so he can sneak up on the evildoers, then as he reveals himself, says "By the power invested in me, I now pronounce you man and knife".  Then he spears him.  

The final scene shows Stallone and Van Damme faced off in a final dual.  Stallone has all kinds of guns and knives on him, but he throws it all down so they can rip each other apart in the manly way.  I just laughed and shook my head.

Of course the boys thought this was all great stuff, but they didn't take it seriously.  The movie is rated R, but there is very little language.  Apparently Chuck Norris knew this movie would appeal to tween and teenage boys, and insisted the f-bombs be removed.  Good for him.  There is no sex, not even implied, or even a scantily-clad woman.  The rating is coming completely from the shooting and violence that was almost cartoonish.

So I've warned you.  How in the name of all that's holy did this film get 65% on Rotten Tomatoes is beyond me.  If you want a silly, brainless bit of testosterone, with a wisp of a theme of retribution, then look no further!

2 out of 5 stars 


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Salon: Bring on Broadway!

 Good morning my friends!  So anything new going on?  As I think back through my week, only a few highlights come to mind. Generally, it was business as usual...driving the kids around to their practices, running and Andre abuse in the name of fitness, working in the yard and around the house (a wasp stung me in the face...does that count as a highlight?).  I had a very upbeat doctor appointment with good news.  Our nine hole women's golf league started a couple of weeks ago, and I was able to play for the first time this week, with not a half-bad score.  No complaints.

I was a featured guest post on She Reads this week, talking about audiobooks (shocking I know).  I didn't have a chance to direct you over there because it posted quicker than I expected...go check it out if you want to hear me ramble about my love for audios and Joshilyn Jackson.

I'm also on top of the world right now after a Saturday of AWESOMENESS on the part of my kids.  My daughter, a ninth grader, ran Varsity for her Cross Country team, on one of the toughest courses in Florida, and had her Personal Best time.  Plus the Varsity Girls took 1st place!  And my son's football team remains undefeated, shutting out the other team yet again 29-0 in a field that was a total mud pit.  It is so much flipping fun to see your kids kick butt.

But the biggest excitement in my tiny little brain is an upcoming trip.  In the past million years, my husband has always had a quickie trip to New York City in late November/early December.  I've never been able to go because of kid issues, but this year, we decided that the kid issues would resolve themselves and I've been booked on a flight to go.  It is only for two days, but while we are there for two days, we are scheduled to see two Broadway shows. 

The first show we are going to see is "Rock of Ages", a tribute to '80's big hair and the bands that supported the revolution.  This is OUR GENRE people, and while I didn't see the movie (Tom Cruise as a rock God, no thanks), I will revel in my 6th row seats center stage.   I shall bring a lighter to flick at the appropriate times, and will scream at the top of my lungs "POUR SOME SUGAR ON MAAAY (IN THE NAME OF LOVE)".  And dammit, I will mean it, even though my mall hair is long gone.

The second show I will be seeing by myself while my husband does his business dinner thang.  I shall be seeing..............after premiering only one week prior............THE MUSICAL VERSION OF "REBECCA".  Manderley!  Mrs. Danvers and Mrs De Winter!  OMG!  Twists and darkness and singing!  I cannot stand it.  I am having such a tremendous geek attack, I am not sure I'll be able to sit still in my seat.  Holy crap.  Anyone want to join me?  November 29th, 7:00pm, Row K, seat 108.  Be there.  

OK, so I will talk quickly about my reading week because now I am rambling.  I finished both "Bucolic Plague" by the GayGentlemenFarmersWhomILove and "One Last Thing Before I Go" by JonathanTropperWhomILove on audio, AND also "Drop Dead Healthy" by A.J. Jacobs.  All in this week.  I rocked the house on audio.  I am now a couple of discs into "The Invisible Ones" that all audiophiles say is a must listen.  I have to comment that the narrator is pretty amazing so far.  I'm a sucker for British accents.  

In print I plowed through "Code Name Verity" for my book club meeting on Thursday night.  I have to tell you that two people didn't even finish and the rest of us had our issues.  There were some pretty amazing things about this book, but it wasn't flawless.  Now I am reading my beloved Jo Nesbo's newest book "The Phantom".  Which releases on October 2.  Plow, plow, plow.

So I am picking up my reading pace.  If only I could catch up on the reviews!  Ha!  That will be next week's goal, although the kids don't have school on Thursday or Friday so I'm wishing myself good luck on that front.  On the potential agenda is Sea World and Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights.

Hope you all have a relaxing day of reading today.  I'm currently headed out for some Sunday morning running before church.  What do you have going on today?  Any good books I need to know about?    

Friday, September 21, 2012

SIBA Recap: Books I'm Excited About Part 1

Like other trade shows, SIBA is a great place to learn about all the new, upcoming titles that are creating a buzz.  You have dinner with authors or you hear them talk on panels, and their stories strike a chord with you.  Another SIBA feature is a rapid-fire presentation from all the publishers reps about their personal favorites.  Then you also stop by the publisher booths, and something catches your eye.  It comes at you from all directions, and it is sometimes more stimulation than a book geek can handle.  I have really REALLY attempted to narrow my own "hot list" down to two posts.    
Indiscretion - Charles Dubow (February 2013):  This one was a rep pick from Harper Collins, set in the present day and follows a wealthy and glamorous husband and wife whose idyllic life is upended when they meet an impressionable and ambitious young woman.  It has been described as compelling, engrossing, fun, sexy and sophisticated.  When Dawn from Harper Collins was talking about it, she was flushed!
The Longest Race - Ed Ayres (October 2012):  I'm always looking for inspiration to run just one more mile, and when I stopped by Workman Publishing, this caught my eye.  It is written by a gentleman who has been running competitively for 55 consecutive years, and is his gripping account of an iconic ultra marathon, with insights about running and its connection to human endurance.  
Out of the Easy - Ruta Sepetys (February 2013):  I didn't even need to know what this book was about.  Just having read Sepetys' "Between Shades of Grey" (NOT to be confused with the smarmy trashy crap with a similar name) was enough.  Still, just so you know, this one takes place in 1950, and is about a 17 year-old daughter of a New Orleans hooker who wants to leave the life behind but gets drawn into a murder investigation.
Walking the Amazon - Ed Stafford:  This one was a rep pick by Penguin.  It is an account of the first man to ever walk the entire length of the Amazon river.  It took him 860 days, and required him to outwit dangerous animals and machete-wielding indigenous people, as well as negotiate injuries, weather and his own fears and doubts.
People Who Eat Darkness - Richard Lloyd Parry:  This was a rep pick as well, and is true crime, my favorite!  It was compared to "In Cold Blood" and was described as dark and unputdownable.  It is a story about a 21 year-old woman who stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo and disappeared forever.    

Spillover:  Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic - David Quammen (October 2012):  It helped that this was a rep pick from W.W. Norton, but I will never forget reading "The Hot Zone".  This book explores the horrifying truths about diseases that spread from animals to humans.  Sleepless nights ahoy!

Reconstructing Amelia - Kimberly McCreight (April 2013):  Sorry, I couldn't find cover art for this one.  It was a rep pick by Harper Collins that had everyone from this publisher a-flutter.  A working, harried single mother gets a call from her daughter's private school that she has been caught cheating.  But when she arrives at the school, she learns that in fact her daughter is dead because of a spontaneous suicide.  Devastated, the mother attempts to cope, until she receives an anonymous text saying "She didn't jump".  This one is described as a psychological page-turner, and compared to Tana French (CAREFUL!  Few compare!) and Jodi Picoult.

I realize that is a lot to lay on you in one post.  Stay tuned next Friday for more!  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Childproof: Cartoons about parents and children - Roz Chast

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of reading (at the behest of Jenners, who is always surrounded by an aura of humor, am I right?) "What I Hate from A to Z" by New York Times cartoonist Roz Chast.  I had SO MUCH FUN with this book.  There is something truly freeing about coming up with a hate list, and putting it out there so others can empathize (or think you could possibly be a whack job).  Roz's hate list was actually very similar to mine, but I came up with an expanded one.  It was better than an hour with a therapist.

So imagine my delight when I opened a package recently, and found THIS book in it, a gift from the lovely Jenners.  If there is one topic where you need to laugh to keep from crying, it is your children.  

Strangely, I could find no online visuals of this book, and I'm too apathetic to do my own scanning.  So let me just describe what is in store for you.

In a hilarious forward, Roz starts out reminiscing about when she and her husband decided to start a family.  It wasn't a well-thought-out plan...they were living a carefree life of projects, movies, eating out, and having fun.  A friend advised them darkly, "Don't do it".  They didn't listen.  Eleven years and two kids later, they remember back on that fateful day.  Do they regret their decision?  There are days!  To help offset the bad days with the good, Roz decided that some hilariously realistic cartoons would be in order.

She illustrates the Ten Most Wanted Babies.  My favorite is Jeanette, who licked the car tire.  Or Shelley, who refused to kiss Grandma.  There is the First Child Catalog, with an IQ-boosting mobile for $675 and luxury booties for $265.  There are the proud, attentive parents pushing a baby down the sidewalk in a stroller, while the child is musing to herself "When I am fourteen, I will make your life a LIVING HELL".  Hmmm.  I think that is a picture of the Nawrots 14 years ago.

Thought you knew the Seven Deadly Sins?  Roz has some of her own that include a cookie before dinner, shoes on the sofa, running with a lollipop in the mouth, losing an expensive toy, a letter home from a teacher, or back talk.  Looks like the Nawrots better pray extra hard at church this week.

Chast slowly ages the children and the problems that come with teenagers, and even college graduates and beyond.  We see Rosemary's baby at 27, still at home watching TV and drinking beer.  We see mothers who have been assigned punitive damages for Barbie sins:  Never buying daughter a Barbie = $3M.  Buying daughter Barbie, but the wrong one = $4M.  Buying the right Barbie, but denying daughter Midge, Ken or Skipper = $6M.  Buying too much Barbie stuff, causing psychic harm = $12M.  Chast's point?  We are damned if we do, and damned if we don't.  Get used to the being the sole reason for the world's problems!  

The humor in this book isn't saved for parents only.  I think anyone who has been a child in their distant and not-so-distant past is going to find a lot to chuckle over here.  If you are feeling a little sluggish with your reading, pick this up for an evening of fun.  

4 out of 5 stars 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Kiawah #3

Kiawah Island isn't just about golfing.  There is a little village with restaurants and shopping (Indigo Books baby!!!).  I couldn't help but be charmed by this bronze statue of reading frogs.  That is my kinda frog.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Orphan Master's Son - Adam Johnson (Audio)

I wandered into this one totally blind and by sheer luck.  My ever-generous friend Heather transferred a download of this audiobook to me months ago.  I knew nothing about it, and so there is sat, on my iPod.  Then good reviews started popping up and I threw out my usual comment "Boy I really need to listen to this".   Realistically though, I probably wouldn't have gone there had it not been for Lisa at TLC Book Tours, who asked if I wanted to jump on the bandwagon.  Sure why not?  

Had I known anything about the plot, though, I'm not sure I would have made this same decision.  It just isn't the type of book that speaks to me.  I guess I stand corrected.

Synopsis:  In an epic, revealing tale of the mysterious North Korea, we are introduced to Jun Do, the "son" of an administrator of a North Korean orphanage.  He believes he is truly the man's son, even though he is treated like all the other orphans, and given a name of one of the 114 Grand Martyrs akin to "John Doe".  Appropriately then, our John Doe takes on many roles and shifting personalities in his life.  He is a patrolman of the dark tunnels beneath the DMZ, then recruited to kidnap Japanese citizens.  He learns English, then is assigned to a fishing ship to monitor foreign radio transmissions.  Through a series of mishaps, he is deemed a national hero and acts as a diplomat on a trip to Texas.  From there he is imprisoned in a labor camp, where he goes hand to hand with the evil Commander Ga, kills him and then impersonates him, all the way down to acting as husband to his beautiful actress wife.

The story is narrated through three voices:  that of a propaganda announcer, of Jun Do, and of a young, idealistic interrogator.  The story is also separated into two parts - that which happened before Jun Do "became" Commander Ga, and after, when he becomes consumed with Ga's wife and children.  Ambitious in scope, we walk in the shoes of a sort of conscientious objector in a regime that has no tolerance of such behavior.  Through two men, we see the roles available to those who serve Kim Jong-il.  Heartbreakingly, we see their inner hopes and dreams and sense of responsibility, and what must be sacrificed to survive.  

My thoughts:  All of this drama may seem unlikely and even a little over-the-top, but in Johnson's capable hands, he takes it on and wins.  However, I didn't start off loving it.  I couldn't figure out what the HECK was going on.  I was confused.  Wasn't he just on a boat with fishermen?  Now he is in Texas?  Now he is prison?  What just happened?  I almost stopped around disc 5, blaming it on my listening skills.  But I persevered, and after awhile I got completely sucked into the slipstream of the craziness.  North Korea is a little surreal anyway, isn't it?  With it's rules governed by one narcissistic, fallible man (now the narcissist's son who looks like a spoiled rich kid), the brainwashed nature of their citizens, and the unbalanced distribution of resources.  A hell on Earth, it seems to me.  Unconventional tales of adventure seem to belong in this land.  

I think everyone in the US sort of knows about the backwardness and absurdity of North Korea, but it was the graphic novel "Pyongyang" that made my blood turn cold, and really made me stop and think about what life might be like over there.  If this book is any indication (and I'm assuming it is, since the author actually visited there), to step foot over there would be my worst nightmare.

I found it pretty humorous that the author includes many interactions with the Dear Leader, and portrayed him as a goofy, self-absorbed whack job.  I'm sure some poetic license was taken here, but how could he not be?  

Overall, this was one bizarre reading experience, one that you have to work for, but one worth the effort.  It was no easy feat to even begin to describe it, and it continues to linger in my mind days after I finished.  

A few words about the audio production:  The audio featured three narrators - Tim Kang, Josiah D. Lee, and James Kyson Lee.  Each were excellent, with authentic accents (even a Texan one!) and made the listening experience one of total immersion.  It doesn't appear that any of them have much experience at audio narration but you would never know.

Listening length:  19 hours and 22 minutes (464 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars        


Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Matinee: The Red Violin (1998)

 It is strange how many of the movies I end up loving find me by accident, like this one.  I knew absolutely nothing about the film, but my husband and I ended up stumbling across it in one evening's search for something interesting on Netflix streaming.  

The film traces the expansive history of a mysterious red violin over four centuries and five countries, starting in Cremona Italy in 1681 and ending in a Canadian auction house in 1997.  

The story begins with the master violin maker in Cremona Italy in 1681.  His wife is pregnant with their first child, and he is making this life's masterpiece with the belief that his son will one day play it.  His wife is concerned for her health and that of the baby because of her age, and seeks the wisdom of a tarot card reader, who predicts her fantastical future through five cards that we return to throughout the movie.  (Skipping over dramatic events that are a secret!)  Ultimately the violin is donated to an orphanage in Austria.  

In 1793, a young, sickly boy who is living in the orphanage picks up the red violin and shows himself to be a brilliant prodigy.  He is sponsored by an renowned instructor and tutored to become the greatest violinist the world has ever seen. (More secrets.)  The violin ends up stolen by gypsies and is acquired by a seductive, eccentric Lothario in Oxford in the late 1890's.

The Lothario, named Frederick Pope, is a genius violinist who draws his inspiration from sexual romps with women.  Inevitably, this heightened passion and hedonism ends up going astray, the violin takes a bullet, and is whisked away by Pope's Chinese servant, taken to Shanghai and sold to an antiques dealer.  

The violin resurfaces in late 1930's, which it is purchased by a mother for her daughter.  We catch up with the daughter, now grown, in the late 1960's, at the height of the Cultural Revolution.  All items deemed foreign and unsuitable to the Communist regime are being burned, including musical instruments.  The  woman loves her classical music and her childhood violin, and at risk to her life, sneaks it to her instructors home, where it isn't discovered until he dies in the current day.  The instructor has saved not only the red violin, but many others as well, and is sent to Montreal to auction.

Which is where everything converges.  Many people who are connected with the violin are present (monks from the Italian orphanage, a representative from the Pope Foundation, the Chinese woman's son, etc.) and all desperately want the violin.  But none more than Mr. Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson), an expert appraiser of collectible violins.  He becomes obsessed with the history of this instrument, and attempts to determine the source of the mysterious red varnish and positively confirm that this is indeed THE violin people have been searching for for decades.  The question is...who will end up with this magnificent item and will be willing to pay the $1.2 million price tag?

I usually don't go into such much detail about a movie plot, but I really wanted you to see the scope and epic quality of what was going on here.  So many cultures, countries, personalities, and passion associated with this one violin.  In fact (and you would almost never hear me say this) but the story was almost too big, too sweeping for a two hour movie.  As a result, I was left wanting more from each "episode" and each character, but ultimately the gorgeous music, the costumes, the all swept me away and I found myself loving it anyway.

The mystery that Samuel L. Jackson is trying to figure out?  Not all that hard to figure out from the viewer's perspective.  Hubby and I figured it out from the start.  Still.  The movie is enchanting, epic, romantic, and gorgeous.  The movie did win an Oscar for the Best Original Score, rightfully in my opinion.  I could have listened to the music for hours.  

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Salon: The Week That Was

 Well good morning all you peoples!  Good to see you up and moving around.  I have just finished what I would consider to be "SIBA Recovery Week".  Yes, Naples was one of those extremely rare times when I get away sans husband and children.  The goal during these times is to have as much relaxation and/or as much fun as possible.  For the most part, this was achieved.  But all good things must come to an end, and for me that was Monday afternoon.  Back in the saddle.  Back to the 4:45 mornings, sick kids, football practices, homework battles, the dirty house, the hungry mouths, etc.  

In the scrambling around, it did dawn on me that it WAS Book Blogger Appreciation Week!  And with the exception of an interview swap, and announcing a giveaway that was a couple weeks overdue, it just blew right by me.  So let me just take a moment here and acknowledge all of you who take a moment out of your day to come here and read my blatherings, those who regularly comment, those of you who are reading and blogging like nobody's business (and whom I so enjoy), and those who I consider my friends online and off.  If it weren't for you all, I would not still be doing this.  Seriously there are days!!!  Weeks!!!

One pretty awesome thing that I discovered at SIBA is that Orlando has a used bookstore (and a member of SIBA) on the south side of town called Dog-Eared Books.  I scooted down to visit Brooke, the owner, on Friday.  I'll have to do a separate post about her store, but it is not your average used book store.  It is amazing, and it comes with a sweet little puppy to greet you.

I'm still going hard and heavy with my half-marathon training.  My running partner and I have upped our runs during the week to 5 miles, and are running 8 miles on the weekend.  Yesterday, however, was not the best long run I've had.  It must have been that glass of wine Friday night or something, but it just about killed me.  I was able to drag myself to my son's football game (another shut-out...25-0...woo hoo!) but that was basically it for the day!  Lord I feel old.  I am old.

On the reading front, I'm like a stick in the mud with the print.  I'm making my way through "Code Name Verity" for book club (which is next Tuesday - eek - not sure I'll finish in time).  I've been listening to "The Bucolic Plague" on audio in the car.  If you haven't heard of this one, it is about two gay Manhattanites who buy a mansion and farm in the country and attempt to be gentlemen farmers.  OMG, this is the funniest and most fantasy-inspiring thing I've read in ages.  Love.  I'm also listening to Johnathan Tropper's latest "One Last Thing Before I Go" and I'm enjoying that immensely as well.

So, the only thing on the agenda today is church and petting kittens at the shelter.  Relatively low-key stuff.  Maybe I'll even finish Verity.  Hope you all have a great Sunday and upcoming week.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Finally! Winners of the Jo Nesbo Giveaway

OK, I said I would announce the winners of the Amazing Jo Nesbo Giveaway on August 31.  I'm only two weeks late, and I have no good excuses.

But better late than never!  And it is BBAW so it is a great way to celebrate.  

I was so pleased with the response to this giveaway - 18 entries in total!  

Since it has been so long since my original post, here is what I'm giving away, and the winners (chosen from

ARC of Phantom #1:  Melissa (Serenity in Books)

ARC of Phantom #2:  Elisabeth

GRAND PRIZE WINNER (Phantom ARC, plus a copy of The Snowman and The Leopard):  Marie (Boston Bibliophile)

Congratulations everyone!  I'll be contacting you via e-mail and work on getting those books to you.  You are going to love my man Jo!